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The first Koori Centre lecture for 2008 was given by John Hobson, "Towards a model for training Indigenous languages educators in Australia" [the full paper will be up via the e-repository shortly). And a timely and thought-inducing talk it was too.

John's recently been to Canada, the US and Aotearoa /NZ, looking at Indigenous languages education there. He's come back convinced that we need to do a lot more in Australia to improve the way Indigenous languages are taught. The price of doing nothing is that kids will lose interest in Indigenous languages, and won't put the effort in that's needed to go beyond saying a few words and singing a song or two.

On the (highly) political side, he's come back convinced that the existence of treaties has created climates much more favourable to Indigenous languages rights in those countries than we have in Australia.

On the money side, he noted the major difference between the user-pays attitude to education found in the US and Canada, and the reliance on governments here and in NZ. Native Americans and Native Canadians are using money from mining, from gambling, from whatever resources they have to pay for language work. In practice this means a great diversity in what's on offer, since some groups have far more resources than others. It also means that they rely more on summer and winter institutes (the inpsirations for our Indigenous Languages Institute and Australian Linguistics Institutes) than we in Australia have.

On the less (but still) political side, he highlighted the growing realisation that, like any children learning languages, Indigenous children need qualified teachers who are fluent speakers of the language. (This point has been emphasised by Timoti Karetu (Inaugural Commissioner of Maori Language) *).

On the qualifications side, the Koori Centre has been training people through a Masters of Indigenous Language Education, which covers people who already have degrees. But that doesn't provide the equivalent of an undergraduate major in a Indigenous language that's needed to satisfy education department requirements for teaching a language. Majors in Indigenous languages just aren't on offer. Universities are finding it hard to pay for teaching languages like Indonesian, let alone lots of Indigenous languages with only a handful of students each. So in practice this means developing a workable system of accrediting fluency which is acceptable to communities and to education departments. Tricky.

What about people who don't have degrees but want to get involved in language revitalisation? John noted the advantages of the Ladder model practised in British Columbia (which supports the idea that all children should be able to learn a Canadian aboriginal language at school), and especially by the University of Victoria, whereby students can undertake a First Nations Languages Certificate, delivered through institutes, and whereby the students' fluency is accredited by local groups who are accorded the right to do this by the BC College of Teachers. This can be followed by a certificate in Aboriginal language revitalization (apparently cross-subsidised by income from students learning English), then a 'Development Standard Teaching Certificate', which allows them to teach in primary schools for four years, by which time it is assumed they'll have made some progress towards a Bachelor of Education.

One advantage we do have in Australia is the block release mode of teaching, whereby students can come for short intensive periods, rather than having to leave home for two semesters. That would help the delivery of certificates to people living in remote areas. The ladder model is a bit similar to the stepwise way in which the 1980s Aboriginal teacher trainees were taught in the then Batchelor College (now Batchelor Institute of Indigenous Tertiary Education). No certificate of fluency, but as part of their course, each year they would do "Aboriginal Languages Fortnight" in a community - it was a fortnight's training in aspects of their first language (literacy, literature production, and sometimes language teacher training). Involvement in this training was some of the most rewarding and interesting work I've had.

Setting up something like the Ladder approach would require cooperation between a whole bunch of people - local Indigenous people and language centres, school syllabus and teacher accreditation bodies, centres like the Koori Centre, researchers in language education, language revitalisation and maintenance , and linguistics.

A lot of work, but can we afford not to do it? Something for the 2020 summit?


* E.g. in his plenary talk for the International Program on Indigenous Language and Culture Maintenance, held at Macquarie University as part of the Australian Linguistics Institute, July 2002.

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